Queen visits Porton Down with William on her first public engagement since lockdown

The Queen has made her first external public engagement since the coronavirus lockdown forced the 94-year-old Monarch into isolation.

She’s jointly visited the top secret military laboratory, Porton Down, with her grandson, Prince William.

The Ministry of Defence’s high-security testing centre in Wiltshire was at the centre of the investigation and detection of the poison gas Novichok which was deployed in Salisbury in 2018 against the former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter.

The Queen is formally opening Porton Down’s new Energetics Centre where she and the Duke of Cambridge will be shown the weapons and tactics used in counter intelligence operations.

The centre is so operationally sensitive for the UK’s security services that cameras were not allowed to enter with the Royals, who were given a private tour.

The Queen watches as the Duke of Cambridge signs the visitors' book during a visit to Porton Down. Credit: PA

They are meeting scientists who identified the nerve agent Novichok, which Britain later accused Russia of deliberately spreading at the home of the former Russian spy Sergei Skripal.

The Queen and William were also introduced to micro-biologists who are working with the NHS to research and analyse the Covid-19 virus.

Neither the Queen nor the Duke were wearing masks.

Buckingham Palace said that decision was made after consulting the Monarch's medical team.

None of the other Porton Down staff she was wearing a mask but they had all returned negative coronavirus tests prior to the royal visit.

The Queen has not carried out a royal engagement like this since the lockdown began in March.

She left Buckingham Palace for Windsor Castle were she stayed with the Duke of Edinburgh who is now 99 and a small team of staff to limit the Monarch’s risk of exposure to coronavirus.

Credit: PA

She still went to Balmoral for the summer as usual but then spent time with Prince Philip at Wood Farm, the cottage on the Sandringham Estate where he has spent most of his retirement.

Prince Philip remains there, but the Queen is now basing herself at Windsor.

The Novichok nerve agent she will hear about today was imported into the UK inside a perfume bottle and it poisoned Skripal and his daughter Yulia as well as a Wiltshire police office Nick Bailey.

They all survived.

But the discarded Novichok was later picked up by accident by two members of the public, Dawn Sturgess and Charlie Rowley.

Ms Sturgess died a week later and a murder investigation was launched.

The micro-biologists and cyber-warfare experts who work at the Ministry of Defence site, officially known as the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory are on the front line of defence against chemical weapons and pathogens.

Novichok has been identified in recent weeks as the poison used on the Russian Opposition leader Aleksei Navalny and chemical weapons have also been unleashed in Syria’s civil war, including Sarin and chlorine.